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The A to Z of Baking: G is for Guinness Cake

phontoAfter the chaotic, sugar coated mess of my last A to Z of Baking challenge, I opted for something that I hoped would be tasty but less ‘high maintenance’ for the ‘G’ of my challenge. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I decided to create Guinness cake for the first time and compared with last week’s bake off, this latest baking experience was smooth, sweet and laid-back, just as anything involving Guinness should be.

I set to making my latest creation a few days earlier than planned. On Tuesday evening, Steve and I rushed home from work to give our house a quick spruce up as we’re planning to rent it out in the near future (more news on this adventure to follow in a future post) and were informed by the estate agent that we had a viewing booked for 6pm. By 6.30pm, it became clear that our first house viewer was a no-show. Feeling tired, restless and annoyed that we’d cancelled our evening plans for this non-existent viewing, I decided to do something productive with my frustration rather than give into the temptation to veg out in front of the TV.  So, what better to do than rustle up a cake!

Cake in the tin to take to work!

Cake in the tin to take to work!

After a mad dash to the local supermarket, I set to creating my chocolate stout cake and let me tell you, the recipe I followed from the Hummingbird Bakery ‘Cake Days’ book was a breeze! It was relatively quick to rustle up and very painless, and the results are impressive!

High points

This cake is, in my humble opinion and limited experience, super easy to make, and looks and tastes delicious.

Low points

There aren’t many, other than I forgot to dust the cake with cocoa powder, but I don’t think that affected the overall outcome much.

Ingredients

  • 250ml Guinness
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 80g cocoa powder
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 140ml buttermilk
  • 280g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

For the frosting

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 125g full-fat cream cheese
  • Cocoa powder for dusting

Preheat the oven to 170C / 325F / Gas mark 3, then line the base of a 9in (23cm) cake tin with baking parchment.

Pour the Guinness into a saucepan, add the butter and gently heat until it has melted. Remove the pan from the heat and stir the cocoa powder and sugar into the warm liquid. Mix together the eggs, vanilla essence and buttermilk by hand in a hug or bowl, and then add this to the mixture in the pan.

Sift together the remaining sponge ingredients into a large bowl and with an electric whisk, set on a low speed, pour in the contents of the pan. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue to mix thoroughly until all the ingredients are incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 45 minutes (although I had to bake for nearly an hour until it had set), until the sponge bounces back when pressed and a skewer comes out of the middle of the cake clean. Set aside to cool, and then remove from the tin on to a wire rack, making sure the cake is cold to the touch before you frost it.

Using the electric whisk, mix the butter and icing sugar together until there are no large lumps of butter and it is fully combined with the sugar in a sandy mixture. Add the cream cheese and mix on a low speed, then increase  the speed to medium and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Place the cooled cake onto a plate or cake card and top generously with the cream cheese frosting. The cake can be decorated with a light dusting of cocoa powder.

Mama-andmore
phonto(1)

The A to Z of Baking: F is for Fondant Fancy FAIL!

phonto(1)Hello! I’m back with the ‘F’ of my A to Z of Baking challenge, and after attempting thw following recipe I discovered that I could think of many words beginning with ‘f’ to sum up this week’s concoction, not many of which are positive words!

A little bit of a disclaimer…

Before I get into telling you about my escapades with the letter ‘f’, I must firstly apologise for my absence last week on the baking front and explain the reasons why. When I first undertook this A to Z of Baking challenge a few weeks ago, I pledged to bake a new recipe each week. Six weeks in, I realised that this timescale was a little ambitious and a little too demanding on both my time and my purse (I tell you, the next batch of Tesco Clubcard discount vouchers are going to be for nothing but icing sugar, unsalted butter and cocoa powder!).  I wanted to take on the challenge to expand my baking repertoire, improve my confidence with baking and improve my presentation skills. When I’m rushing to fit baking into my week, it defeats the object altogether. Plus, there is only so much cake I can palm off on my family, friends and colleagues and doing so week on week has been leaving people looking a bit green around the gills, me included!

So, with this in mind, I have had to re-think my timescales and I have instead decided to cut my baking back to once every two weeks. I really appreciate all the support I have had so far on the blog with regard to my baking challenge and do hope you will continue to stick with me on this sugar-soaked journey.

Anyway, back to the baking! I found a lovely looking recipe in one of my books for fondant fancies at the beginning of the challenge and thought that it would be a good test of my developing skills. What a test indeed…

All was going well with the baking of the cake. It was when I came to load it with buttercream and ice the bugger that the test really began. Although I spent time carefully cutting the cake in half horizontally as instructed, it still ended up lopsided with one half clearly thicker than the other (any tips on how to cut better and more evenly gratefully received!). Then, the recipe called for the icing to be drizzled over the top of the fancies, but when they made fancies on Great British Bake Off, they dunked them in the icing so I was skeptical that this approach would work but I equally didn’t ‘fancy’ (geddit?!) trying to dunk the squidgy, messy things in icing!

So, I drizzled away and was left with the rather embarrassing cakes as shown in the pic above, along with a whole load of gloopy icing, buttercream and jam to scrub off my wire rack and chopping board. All in all, not a successful experience and one I won’t be repeating.  Don’t worry Mr Kipling, your job is safe! ;-)

High points

Although the cakes look dire, they are actually very tasty. They’re very sweet so are best served straight from the fridge so that they hold together better and don’t taste quite as sickly as they would do if they were warm.

Low points

Whilst the cakes may taste very nice, they certainly don’t look it so if anyone other than my boyfriend is to try one of these creations, it will most certainly be served with a very apologetic disclaimer from myself.

The recipe I followed…

Ingredients

  • 175g unsalted butter
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 2 tablespoons of milk
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons of raspberry jam

For the buttercream

  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 150g icing sugar

For the icing

  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 450g icing sugar
  • 1 to 2 drops natural pink food colouring

Preheat the oven to 190C (375F/Gas 5). Grease the cake tin (I used a 9″ round tin). Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat until pale and fluffy. Set aside.

Lightly beat the eggs and vanilla extract in another large bowl. Add about 1/4 of the egg mixture and one tablespoon of the flour to the butter mixture and beat well, then add the rest of the egg, a little at a time, beating as you go. Sift over the rest of the flour, add the milk, and fold in with a metal spoon.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared cake tin and bake in the middle of the oven for about 25 minutes, or until lightly golden and springy to the touch. Remove from the oven, leave to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then remove from the tin and cool upside down on a wire rack.

To make the buttercream, beat the butter with the icing sugar until the mixture is smooth. Set aside.

Slice the cake horizontally and spread the jam on one half and the buttercream on the other. Sandwich together, then cut into 16 equal squares.

To make the icing, put the lemon juice in a measuring jug and fill it up to 60ml with hot water. Mix this with the icing sugar, stirring continuously and adding more hot water as required until the mixture is smooth. Add 1 to 2 drops of pink food colouring (I used paste) and stir well.

Use a palette knife to transfer the cakes to a wire rack placed over a board or plate to catch the drips, then drizzle the icing over the cakes completely, or just cover the tops of the cakes and allow the icing to drip down the sides so the sponge layers are visible.

Decorate as you please and leave to set for about 15 minutes.

Tasty Tuesdays on HonestMum.com

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The A to Z of Baking: E is for Enormous Chocolate Surprise Cupcake

imageOk, so this one might sound a bit of a tenuous link, ‘e’ for ‘enormous’, but this week I decided to make the enormous chocolate cupcake creation in honour of a friend at work’s birthday. I’d decided a few weeks ago that this was what I was going to do, so once I’d ordered my giant cupcake tin (I went for the Eddingtons 3D Jumbo Giant Cupcake Tin) I began looking for giant cupcake recipes.

Still being a bit of a nervous baker, I wasn’t really comfortable with following a standard cake recipe and then sharing it between the two moulds, because I was worried I would get quantities wrong and that it would be a massive fail. I struggled to find many giant cupcake recipes online that I liked (I was looking specifically for chocolate) and which looked impressively decorated. Luckily, however, I mentioned my quest to a friend and she shared with me a recipe from a friend of hers for a chocolate cake that was dedicated specifically to a giant cupcake mould. There’s nothing better than trying out a personally shared recipe, rather than simply trawling recipe books, so I gave it a go and it worked out really well!

Also, shared with me were the ingredients for a chocolate frosting. Although I intended to pipe the frosting onto the top of the cupcake in a swirly fashion, it was nearly 11pm on Sunday night when I began doing this and after another weekend of rocking out – this time to AC/DC at Wembley (honestly, my life is not always this busy…) – I was tired and concerned that I wouldn’t have enough frosting mixture to pipe, so I pasted the frosting on instead. I chose to decorate with edible glitter, mini chocolate hearts, and top with an edible flower. But, the world is really your oyster when it comes to decorating this bad boy, go crazy!

imageI created a slight variation on the recipe by hollowing out a small hole in the base of the cupcake after it had cooled and filling it with a tube of Smarties for a ‘Surprise!’ effect. Upon cutting into the cake, however, we realised it really needed more Smarties. I also toyed with the idea of sticking chocolate fingers to the outside of the base because I’d spotted this idea on another website and really liked it, but didn’t get round to buying any chocolate fingers in time, so that’s one for next time.

High points

With the right recipe, this is a surprisingly simple cake to bake, with impressive results. It tastes good too, not too dense but it can really hold its own.

Low points

Next time (I’ll definitely want to make this again, it’s a perfect celebration cake), I intend to use more chocolate frosting mixture so I can create more of a gooey layer between the base and the top of the cupcake. I also think it’s definitely worth using two to three tubes of Smarties (or Minstrels, or M&Ms – again, feel free to go crazy…) for the surprise. Cutting into the cake to find a very small drizzle of Smarties limping out was underwhelming to say the least.

Ingredients

  • 225g butter, softened
  • 410g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs, large
  • 90g self raising flour
  • 280g plain flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 90g Cocoa powder
  • 300ml milk
  • 45ml (3 tablespoons) vinegar (malt or white wine vinegar)

For the chocolate frosting

  • 80g unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

First, prep up your giant cupcake tin, a really important step in getting the cake out whole. Spray cake  release is recommended as the easiest thing to use but I greased the tin with butter, making sure to grease every nook and cranny.  Place a circle of baking paper in the bottom of the base. Preheat the oven to 140c (fan) / 160c / gas mark 3. A longer, more gentle bake means that the cake doesn’t take on a hard, thick crust.

Measure the milk and vinegar into a jug, give it a quick stir and set it to one side. Cream together the butter and sugar until it’s nice and fluffy, no skimping on this stage. If you don’t get enough volume into it now, you won’t have enough to fill your tin.

Beat in the eggs one at a time, making sure the mix goes light and fluffy again after each. Now you need to mix in all the dry ingredients and the milk/vinegar mix until it’s evenly incorporated.

Time to fill up the tin. Fill the top first and fill it to about 2cm short of the rim. Now add the rest of the cake mix to the base section – this one will have slightly more space to the top of the rim but as it contains more mixture, it’s got more oomph to rise. Roughly level them both with the back of a spoon. Bake in the oven for 1 hour 10 mins – 1 hour 15 mins. Check the centre of the base section with a skewer and bake until it comes out clean.

Once out of the oven, leave the cakes to cool in the tin for 25 minutes before turning out. After 25 minutes are up, place the cooling rack on the top of the tin and then turn both over together. Give the rack and tin a firm tap on the work surface and carefully lift away the tin.

Next, the chocolate frosting. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, beat the butter until smooth and creamy, for about one minute. Add the sugar and beat until it is light and fluffy, for about two minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the chocolate and beat on a low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to medium/high and beat until the frosting is smooth and glossy, for about two to three minutes.

Pipe or spread your chocolate frosting over the top half of the cupcake, remembering to spread some frosting also on the top of the base, so that the top half of the cupcake sticks well to the base. Decorate the cupcake with whatever takes your fancy. I opted for edible glitter, chocolate hearts and edible flowers.

Tasty Tuesdays on HonestMum.com

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Evaluating Life In the Field of Dreams

11217832_10153091968598031_7649796920151930159_oLast week I temporarily upped sticks and headed down south to Glastonbury Festival to spend four nights camping on a (mahoosive!) farm with another 200,000 people or so.

It was my return to the festival after my first visit exactly ten years ago in 2005, when I had literally just left university. At that time, I had spent the month of June firstly partying in Ayia Napa for a week, on a ridiculously boozy holiday that resulted in a dramatic parting of ways with a friend, which left me distraught (however, ten years later that same friend and I have found each other again and are now boyfriend and girlfriend, so all’s well that ends well), before returning home to head straight to Download Festival for a weekend. So, by the time that Glastonbury rolled round, I was tired, stressed about recent events and concerned about the future (I was about to graduate and return home to live with my parents with no job prospects on the horizon). All of that, coupled with the rain that drenched us for most of the weekend, left me thinking, ‘this overrated festival is hard work, I’ll not be back’.

Fast forward ten years and I found myself heading back down there. Why? Well, a group of friends have been going for the past five years or so and always rave upon their return about the festival. So, when the opportunity arose to head down there this year, I thought ‘why not? I’ve not been to a big festival in quite a few years, let’s do this!’

Glastonbury did not disappoint, and changed my opinion of the annual festival massively. It has grown beyond belief since my last visit and was simply awe-inspiring. You would have to go at least ten times in order to do and see all the things you wanted and there were many points over the weekend when I wished I could split myself into a hundred pieces to go and experience the many different things taking place. Believe me, my Glastonbury Bucket List is very long now, so I will be returning!

Not only was the weekend full of new, exciting experiences that left me marvelling at how much the festival has grown since I was last there, but it also gave me a chance to reflect on how life has changed for me personally over the last ten years. Since that uncertain 21-year-old, at a cross-roads in life, last went to Glastonbury, life has opened up in ways I couldn’t have imagined:

… I’ve followed three different career paths to date, although writing has been the theme that has run throughout and linked each of them together.

… My tastes in all things have grown and developed in a variety of ways.

… I’ve travelled to places I never planned to, or thought in my humble, young mind that I would visit.

… I’ve met and made friends with some amazing people.

… I’ve been lucky enough to fall in love.

… I’ve made life decisions I didn’t want to have to make, and I’ve had to try and let that love go in order to be true to myself.

… I’ve realised that letting go of someone you love can be the hardest thing in the world.

… I’ve made mistakes.

… I’ve been given a chance to try again.

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My Random Musings
Mama-andmore
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The A to Z of Baking: D is for Double Chocolate Espresso Cake

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Last week I made the next recipe for my  A to Z challenge a few days earlier than usual because I was due to go to Glastonbury. So, no sooner had I gotten over over the stressful chocolate brownie experience before I was back in the kitchen again making Double Chocolate Espresso Cake.

This time, however, I took to the baking experience with a much more positive attitude and even managed to bake the cake alongside making tea for my boyfriend and sister, with no stress, tantrums or tears.

The cake turned out really well, although it took a while because I had to cook the two cakes in two batches as my oven was too small to fit in two tins.

The biggest hassle this week was finding people to eat the cake before I headed off to spend the best part of a week in a field. I originally planned to take the cake with me to Glastonbury to share with friends but later came to the conclusion that a 4.5 hour journey in a hot car would probably not be the best idea for a chocolate cake. So, with a day to go I shared the cake out amongst my parents, and friends and colleagues based around the University where I work.

imageIt received positive feedback, and one colleague even commented: “you’re getting really good at this.” I’m not sure if they were just being polite but I’ll take it anyway.

High points

Easier to make than expected, and the mix of coffee, chocolate and caramel makes for a truly decadent treat.

Low points

The original recipe called for the cake to be cut into four layers but I found this impossible to do without destroying the cake so opted for two layers.

Here’s the recipe I followed:

Ingredients

  • 85g good quality dark chocolate, minimum 60% cocoa solids
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 340g soft light brown sugar
  • 290ml milk
  • 110g unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 75ml espresso coffee (I used Tiramisu flavoured filter coffee)
  • 225g plain flour
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the filling

  • 397g tin of caramel (dulce de leche)

For the icing

  • 65g good quality dark chocolate, minimum 60% cocoa solids
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 20g good quality dark cocoa powder
  • Few drops of vanilla extract
  • 25ml strong espresso coffee (again I used Tiramisu flavoured filter coffee)

Heat the oven to 190C / fan 170C / gas 5. Lightly grease the base of two 8in sandwich tins. Break the chocolate into small pieces and put in a heavy based saucepan with the vanilla, half the sugar and half the milk. Melt over a low heat, stirring until smooth. Set aside to cook. Put the butter and remaining sugar into a large bowl and, using an electric whisk, beat until light and fluffy. Break the eggs into a bowl and best lightly with a fork to break them up. Add to the creamed mixture in several additions, beating well between each, then stir in the chocolate mixture and the espresso. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda over the surface and fold in carefully and thoroughly. Stir in the remaining milk; the mixture should be the consistency of a thick batter.

Divide the mixture between the time and bake in the middle of the oven for 35-40 minutes. When cooked, the cakes should feel spongy to the touch and should be evenly set. Leave to cook in the tins for a few minutes before turning out to cool on a white rack.

To make the icing, break the chocolate into small pieces and put into s heatproof bowl. Set over a saucepan of just boiled water and leave it to melt, giving it an occasional stir. When the chocolate has melted, remove from the pan and cool. Whisk the butter in a bowl using an electrician whisk, until light and fluffy. Sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder into a separate bowl, then gradually add to the butter, with the electric whisk still running. Stir in the chocolate and vanilla, then beat in the espresso until smooth.

To assemble, cut each cake into two layers. Set aside the best layer for the top, then spread the others with the caramel. Stack the cakes. Spread the icing sugar over the top and sides using a palette knife, and swirl the top with the knife. Chill briefly to set the icing, before cutting into slices to serve.

My Random Musings
Mama-andmore
phonto

The A to Z of Baking: C is for Chocolate Brownies

phontoThe aim of this challenge is to try out new and different recipes, so some of you may be wondering why I opted for chocolate brownies this week. Let’s face it, there are plenty of much more outlandish, elaborate, exciting recipes out there than good ol’ chocolate brownies. But the thing is, I was given this recipe by a colleague a while ago, after sampling the most amazing chocolate brownie made following this recipe. Indulgent, gooey in all the right places… it. was. perfection. So, I stored it in my recipe bank and intended to make it but never got round to it, which was why it was my perfect choice for the letter ‘C’.

This week’s baking experience, however, was less than perfect to begin with. I decided to bake the brownies to take into work on Friday because it was my birthday on Saturday, so I thought that I would take the brownies in as a pre-birthday treat for everyone. Arriving home later than expected on Thursday and with limited time to bake before heading out again, I set about creating the brownies.

I was feeling tense, stress and against the clock from the second I started baking, so I just knew something had to give. I didn’t read the recipe through before beginning as I was in a rush, so I read the line in the method that stated:  ‘Mix together all dry ingredients and then place to one side’ and dutifully weighed and mixed the plain flour, cocoa powder and sugar together. Then, I followed the next instruction below, which read: ‘Cream room temperature butter (bar 2 tbsp) and sugar together. Once white and fluffy beat in one egg at a time until combined.’

‘WTF!’ I thought. ‘I’ve already mixed the sugar in with the blimmin’ dry ingredients and I don’t have enough ingredients to start all over again. Nor do I have time to go out to the shop for more!’ After much cursing under my breath, I had a quick word with myself. I do not want to fail on my baking challenge, nor did I want to let my colleagues down the next day and turn up to work empty handed, so I decided – rightly or wrongly – to mix the small amount of brown sugar I had left in the cupboard in with the butter. I didn’t weigh it but there wasn’t much there.

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The grumpy baker is NOT amused!

I was even more of a grumpy mood now, inwardly berating myself for being such a stress head and letting things get to me, and as I added in the eggs and saw them curdling with the  butter and bit of sugar, my mood worsened. Nonetheless, I plugged on and managed to get the brownie mixture in the oven on time, not before burning my hand on the oven shelf because I was in a rush and didn’t bother to put the oven gloves on. I deserved that one.

It was then when the brownies were in the oven that I realised I had completely forgotten to add the buttermilk I had bought! (What else am I going to use it for before it goes off?!) I definitely didn’t hold out much hope of these brownies turning out to be edible and was fully preparing myself for heading to the supermarket on the way to work to pick up cake for everyone.

Lo and behold however, the brownies came out of the oven and apart from the edges, which were slightly tough, it turned out lovely – albeit super sweet, probably down to the extra sugar I added! I was joyous, I was relieved, and I decided to chop them into small squares because the sweetness of them all meant that you really didn’t need a slab.

IMG_0042I took the cakes to work on Friday and they were happily demolished by my colleagues. Despite my best efforts, the brownies ended up not exactly being made with love, but they sure did turn out damn tasty. I’ll definitely make them again, but I will go into it with a clearer head and more time next time!

High points

The recipe is very easy to follow if you follow it correctly and, as I found out, even if you don’t follow it correctly, you’re still in with a fighting chance of a good brownie.

Low points

The low point was the error in the method ordering in the recipe, which I have corrected below. The other low point was my mood and my burnt hand!

Here’s the recipe I followed, along with my notes:

Ingredients

  • 185g unsalted butter
  • 160g dark chocolate
  • 85g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 280g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs (I used 4 medium eggs)
  • ¼ cup buttermilk (which I think is about 60ml? Do check, though!) I forgot to put this in, in my made baking rush, but it didn’t seem to affect the overall outcome!
  • 100g chocolate chips

Optional Secret Ingredients That Make It Better!

  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup – I DID add this!
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract – DID add this!
  • 20-30g hot chocolate powder – I didn’t add this.
  • 50g chopped nuts or dried fruit – I didn’t add this.
  • 20ml oil (on top of butter) – I didn’t add this.
  • ¼ tsp salt – I didn’t add this.
  • 1 teaspoon coffee (mix in with other wet ingredients) – I didn’t add this.
  • Marshmallows – I didn’t add this.

Method

  • Grease tins and line with greaseproof paper.
  • Preheat oven to 180˚C or 160˚C in a fan assisted oven.
  • Cream room temperature butter (bar 2 tbsp) and sugar together. Once white and fluffy beat in one egg at a time until combined.
  • Mix together all remaining dry ingredients and then place to one side.
  • Melt the chocolate and 2 tbsp butter either over simmering water or in the microwave and add into the butter/sugar mix once cooled slightly.
  • Add in any wet ingredients.
  • Mix once more and then sift in the dry ingredients and whisk together.
  • Fold in the chocolate chips.
  • Pour into tins and bake from 20-35 minutes, checking every 10 minutes. They should still be soft and gooey in the middle and not completely cooked.
  • If you want to add marshmallows to the top cover the now cooked brownie with marshmallows and place the tin under the grill for a few seconds. Once they are browned take them out and wait for them to cool and cut.
  • ***It will be very sticky when you try to cut the brownie because of the mallows. In a plate or bowl next to you mix 3tbsp icing sugar and 1tbsp corn flour. Dust the knife after every cut to help cut the brownie.***
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TFI The Era of the Selfie?

wpid-keep-calm20150615175321.png.pngLast Friday evening, I settled down to watch (with a slice of my new creation, Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake, no less) the one-off return of 90s entertainment show TFI Friday. The show’s revival, whilst it may have had mixed reviews, provided a nostalgic trip down memory lane for its fans, mixing live features with flashbacks to its hey-day.  The following evening, Channel 4 aired the documentary, ‘The 90s: Ten Years That Changed the World.’

The weekend’s viewing schedule was clearly all part of Channel 4’s plan to get us feeling nostalgic for the 90s and let me tell you, it certainly worked on me, although it wasn’t my version of the 90s that I wanted to go back and experience. I wasn’t old enough to go out partying in the 90s – I only hit 16 in the year 2000 – so I spent the decade listening to Take That and sharing stolen kisses with my Mark Owen poster (well, at least I’m honest…!), dreaming of being the sixth Spice Girl and spending Saturday afternoons sat in the attic, waiting patiently for ‘Ooh Ahh… Just a Little Bit’ by Gina G to come on Atlantic 252 so that I could hit record on my cassette player.

So, whilst I have no burning desire to go back in time and do all that again, watching these two programmes at the weekend really made me wish I’d been older in the 90s to really experience all that it had to offer. Maybe it was all just cleverly edited, but the snapshots shown on TV this weekend illustrated a decade of eclectic music, vibrant public personalities, and a little bit of anarchy still left over from previous decades. Compared to the celebrity culture of today, where magazines will pore over the slightest imperfection on a celeb’s skin, or people will line up to be ridiculed on reality TV, the 90s seemed much more honest, much more REAL. Not afraid to do something original for fear of being lambasted on a social media platform that didn’t yet exist.

It made me question what we’ll have to look back on and feel misty-eyed over when we, as a collective, look back on the current decade in years to come. Will a nostalgic programme on the era just be a montage of selfies?… Will we reminisce over the escapades of our favourite perma-tanned ‘stars’ from the likes of TOWIE, Made in Chelsea, Geordie Shore or Big Brother? (Can I add here that I do NOT watch any of these programmes!)…. Will we look back and laugh at that simple time when we only had Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Google+, WhatsApp ( the list goes on…) to chat to each other over?…

There’s no denying that digital technologies are increasingly becoming a part of our everyday lives and fast changing the way we live, so maybe that will be the headline from this decade, but I can’t help wondering where this digital boom will take us?

Maybe in 20 years we’ll look back on this decade as a society and think, ‘ah, that was a great time.’ I hope so. But sometimes, I really do wonder.

What do you think? Do you think the current decade will be a defining one for us? Were you, unlike myself, old enough to experience the 90s as an adult? Was it as good as Channel 4 seemed to remember, or was it not all it cracked up to be? Please do share your thoughts with me!

My Random Musings
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The A to Z of Baking: B is for Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake

imageAfter the bird related fun of last week’s baking challenge, week two was positively dull in comparison, I’ll be honest! They decided not to bring me any extra ingredients this time around, maybe next week…

I’ve been fancying making a blueberry cheesecake for a while, so it was an obvious choice for the a B of my baking challenge. I only own a few bits of baking equipment, so I expected to have to buy a few new things over the course of the baking challenge. This week, I had to invest in my first new item, a food processor, in order to follow the recipe below because it spoke of blending the blueberries and I wasn’t about to attempt that using my humble hand blender – imagine the state of the kitchen.

The cake turned out well, although I’ll admit that my blueberry swirl looks more like a blueberry has thrown up on the cake! I took the cake with me to my boyfriend’s mum’s when we visited at the weekend and it went down a treat.

The ideas and suggestions are rolling in now for the rest of the alphabet, so I’m excited about the creations that are still to come!

High points

This cheesecake is super easy to make, you essentially just whack all of the ingredients, barring the base, into the food processor and mush it all up, before putting it in the oven to bake.

Low points

Although the blueberry swirl looks interesting on the cake, I would have liked the cake to have a little more of a distinctive blueberry flavour. Still tasty, nonetheless.

TOP TIP: Tastes best when served straight from the fridge. We had some in Friday evening after a two-hour drive in a hot car, but the piece we tried Saturday evening from the fridge was much tastier.

Here’s the recipe I followed:

125g digestive biscuits
50g butter
150g blueberries
150g caster sugar, plus 3 tbsp extra
400g cream cheese
250g mascarpone
2 large eggs, plus 1 large egg yolk
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp plain flour

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4). Grease the cake tin. Put the biscuits in a large food bag and crush with a rolling pin. Melt the butter in a pan, then add the biscuit crumbs and stir until well-coated. Press the crumbs into the base of the tin.

2. Put the blueberries and the 3 tablespoons of caster sugar in a food processor and whiz until smooth, then push the mixture through a nylon sieve into a small pan. Bring to the boil, then allow to simmer for 3–5 minutes, or until thickened and jammy. Set aside. Rinse the goblet of the food processor.

3. Put all the remaining ingredients into the food processor and whiz until well combined. Pour the mixture onto the biscuit base and smooth the top. With a teaspoon, carefully drizzle the blueberry mixture over the cream cheese mixture in a swirly pattern. Bake the cheesecake for 40 minutes, or until it has set but still has a slight wobble in the middle when you shake the tin. Leave to cool in the oven for an hour, then cool completely and serve.

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The A to Z of Baking: A is for Apple & Walnut Cupcakes

1433683177401On Friday evening, I launched into creating the ‘A’ of my A to Z of Baking challenge with gusto. I decided to try Apple and Walnut Cupcakes for the first time and, as I had a friend’s barbecue to go to on Saturday afternoon, I thought it would be a great opportunity to make the cakes to take with me, so that I wouldn’t be stuck with loads of cupcakes at home that I would just have to eat myself. Baking for other people is always so much more enjoyable and worthwhile.

It was quite late in the evening before I got around to making the cupcakes and despite a minor hiccup, where I realised I needed 600g of icing sugar (how much?!) for the cake topping and I only had 300g (it still tasted fine – it was too late to head back out to the shop for more), all was going well. That was, until I was about to pour the cake mix into the cases, when my cat Theo proudly waltzed through the cat flap… with a dead bird in his mouth. Great. When I saw what he was carrying, I shrieked like a banshee, causing him to drop the dead bird on the kitchen floor and bolt into the living room.

When I calmed down, I saw the funny side, although it was really sad that he had killed a lovely little bird. Theo had obviously heard that I was taking on a baking challenge and decided to take the nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence quite literally and bring me an extra ingredient (‘four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie…’). Needless to say, the bird remained on the floor until the cakes were safely in the oven and I could deal with the situation and remove it from the house.

Overall, I was impressed with the result. The cakes didn’t look as disastrous as some of my previous concoctions, in fact they looked surprisingly good! Plus, the combination of apple, cinnamon and walnut worked really well and I got really positive feedback from all who tried them.

Not only did friends sample the cupcakes at the barbecue, but I even gave some cupcakes to some neighbours on Saturday morning, who had kindly taken it upon themselves to fill in the moon-like craters that have been spoiling our unadopted road for a long time and making motorists’ lives hell. As a small way of ‘thank you’, we offered them some cupcakes, which they gladly accepted, and told them all about the A to Z baking challenge. They enjoyed the cakes and told us, “We can’t wait for the letter ‘B’!” ;-)

High points

The apple, cinnamon and walnut combination tasted lovely and although a sweet treat, these cupcakes didn’t taste too sweet and sickly like some cupcakes have a tendency to. Plus, I was able to get 16 healthy looking cupcakes out of the mixture, so it’s a great recipe when you have a few people to cater for.

Low points

Dead-birdgate wasn’t ideal, although it made the experience more interesting. I could also have done with checking the quantities before going to buy ingredients. Although using half the required amount of icing sugar tasted fine, a little more icing sugar could have firmed up the topping a little more.

Here’s the recipe I followed (taken from the Hummingbird Bakery ‘Cake Days’ book):

For the sponge:                             For the frosting:

80g softened butter                     600g icing sugar
280g caster sugar                         100g softened butter
240g plain flour                             250g full fat cream cheese
1 tbsp. baking powder               Ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt                                     12-16 walnut halves
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
240ml whole milk
2 eggs
200g apples (peeled and cut
in small pieces)
50g chopped walnuts

1. Beat together the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon
on low speed until the consistency of fine bread crumbs.
2. Whisk eggs and milk and pour 3/4 of the mixture into the dry ingredients.
Mix on low speed first, pour in the remaining milk mixture and mix on medium
speed until the batter is smooth.
3. Stir apples and walnuts into the batter.
4. Fill paper cases by about two-thirds and bake the cupcakes for 18-20
minutes at 190C
5. For the frosting: Beat icing sugar with butter on low speed until
sandy in texture.
6. Add cream cheese and mix on medium-to-high speed until the frosting is smooth.
7. Decorate the cupcakes with the frosting when they are cooled. Dust them with
cinnamon and put half a walnut on each.

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The A-Z of Baking: A 26-recipe challenge

The A to Z of Baking: A 26-Recipe Challenge

The A-Z of Baking: A 26-recipe challengeEarlier this week, I had a think about what my ‘thing’ was in life, my passion, the thing that makes me tick. My conclusion was that the closest I feel I have to my ‘thing’ is my love for writing and it’s something I want to hone.

Whilst I was considering stuff I enjoy doing and things I’d like to do more of, baking came to mind. I’ve always enjoyed it but tend to avoid doing it too often unless I have an occasion to bake for, otherwise I just have cake lying around the house that I will inevitably scoff and as a self-confessed greedy pig who really can’t get away with shovelling anything I like into my mouth, I could do without a few extra pieces of cake.

So, because I don’t bake very often, when I do have an occasion to bake for, I usually decide to bake something I have never tackled before – because there are so many recipes I stumble across that I want to try – but I generally end up in a rush, or mess something up in the method due to lack of practice, and the end result, whilst it may taste good, often looks appalling!! (Cue a pic of the disastrous-looking reindeer cupcakes I made for the Christmas charity bake-off at work last year):

reindeer cupcakes

Seriously, they looked nothing like the picture on the recipe and shortly after I took this photo, their Smartie noses slid off their bleak-looking faces. Bah humbug…

This afternoon, whilst mulling over an interesting piece of lemon and lavender cake with a colleague at a work away day, I had a lightbulb moment – mostly inspired by my colleague, I’ll be honest. If there are so many recipes out there that I want to try, why not work my way through the alphabet and try them all out, for no good reason at all other than the sheer pleasure, and challenge, of it?!

So, the A to Z of Baking: A 26-Recipe Challenge is born! Once a week for the next 26 weeks, I pledge to bake a sweet creation that corresponds with each letter of the alphabet, beginning this weekend with the letter A. Sure, I – and my friends and family! – will likely consume a fair few more calories but it’ll be a great opportunity to try out some new recipes and most of all, it’ll be fun! It will be like the film/book Julie and Julia, only with a tonne more sugar and probably not quite as tricky of some of those French recipes.

Each week, I will post the recipe I have tried out, along with my high and low points, and the overall verdict.

Why not take up the challenge with me, if you fancy it? Or please feel free to share any weird and wonderful sweet bake recipes you have! Any inspiration for letters ‘X’ and ‘Z’, maybe even ‘Q’, are also welcome! ;-)

I’ll post my first recipe this weekend. Wish me luck!

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